Imagine two different scenarios: one class in which the instruction is always logical and serious; another class in which the instructor frequently interject jokes that tangentially deal with the subject. In which class do students learn more? It depends both on how the comedy relates to the course and to the students. Researcher Melissa Bekelja Wanzer, Canisius College, finds that humor directed at students or deemed inappropriate by them interferes with learning. One of the first rules is too make sure the humor, used inside the class or on-line communication, is not offensive. Mark Shatz, and Frank LoSchiavo, Ohio University-Zanesville psychology professors, discovered that when a professor used self-deprecating jokes, and appropriate subject-related cartoons their students utilized the online instructional system more and also said they enjoyed the class more. However Wanzer warned that repeatedly putting oneself down could lead students to view the instructor as less competent.
Secondly, comedy must fit in with the course material. Wasner found that when professors use a dry sense of humor when instructing, the students perceived them as better communicators. In the same manner doctors who occasionally spoke in a witty manner were viewed more favorably by their patients. However most of the studies on how humor affect learning end up with mixed results. Possibly because what each person finds as sufficient, but not overdone humor is different.
John Hopkins University professor, Ron Berk, PhD, uses humorous skits to promote learning in his biostatistics class. His goal is to help students with different learning styles see how statistics work and encourage divergent learning that is applicable in real life. But humor’s role in relieving stress is what makes it valuable in his estimation. “It helps relieve fear and reduce anxiety…prior to or during an exam, humorous directions or test items may relieve students’ tension and help them perform better.”
So remember to keep your best, most relevant joke to tell just before that killer exam.